Our Finished grilled Lamb resting before slicing!

GRILLED LAMB THE “NEW” HOLIDAY MEAT

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I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how lamb has slowly been gaining greater popularity in North America.  Normally associated with Easter, I’ve had many followers indicate that they love to cook lamb in the summer on the grill as well as for holidays like Thanksgiving (yes, there are some that don’t do a turkey or add this protein to the dinner) and Christmas.

My intention today is to provide some guidance on the cuts of lamb, which work best for wood-fired cooking methods, and provide some flavor pairing suggestions to consider for your recipes.  Know that my definition of lamb is a young sheep of fewer than 12 months of age.

Primal Cuts

There are eight basic cuts of lamb: neck, shoulder, breast, ribs, loin, leg, foreshank, and shank.  Immediately, I want you to understand that there is much less meat harvested from a lamb than on some other common animals.  The reason is that lamb tends to be quite fatty and the fat is not something consumable like the current rage with pork.  Once a lamb is harvested, trimmed of its fat, had non-edible parts removed, there is about 40% of its weight remaining in viable meat.  Thus, lamb can be very expensive.

Let’s look at each of the cuts and provide some insight into the best methods of cooking each.

Neck: Then neck contains some of the most marbled meat of the lamb making it ideal for longer cooking methods.  Because of the fattiness of the cut, it is best to marinate it for about 4 hours prior to cooking.  This is a cut that is generally sliced, marinated, and then cooked casserole-style.  This can be done on a grill set up with a two-zone cooking method to allow the wood to be added to the hot side of the grill which can infuse the contents of the casserole if left uncovered.  This cut also works well when ground to produce lamb burgers and sausage.

Shoulder: This is by far one of the most flavorful cuts, is less expensive as it contains more connective tissue and bone producing a tougher cut and can be cooked a variety of ways.  This section can produce bone-in and boneless roasts, shoulder chops, and stew meat.  It is ideal for a slow and low method of cooking which includes traditional smoking.  As such, preparations can include brining, dry and wet rub, and marinating.

Foreshank and Shank: As the name implies, the foreshank is attached to the front legs of the lamb while the shank is connected to the rear legs.  These cuts are ideally braised and presented as individual servings.  Again, these can be done like the neck cut in a casserole on the grill with wood for flavoring.

Rib: Containing what is called the rack and crown, this is the section of the lamb that would be the equivalent to prime rib roast of beef.  It is the most expensive cut and is ideal on the grill.  Always use a two-zone cooking set up to prevent overcooking of the outside.  Chops can also be produced from this cut but note that they cook quickly.  I prefer to still use a two-zone cooking setup so I can move the chops from direct heat to indirect as needed.

Loin: This muscle of the lamb is the most tender and resembles miniature versions of T-bone steak.  It can also be cut into the tenderloin and top loin chops, which is the filet mignon of lamb.  Don’t think you can roast that tenderloin, however, as the size is too small for this method but it works perfectly when grilled.

Leg: Unlike other animals, the leg of lamb is very tender and versatile, producing boneless roasts, sirloin steaks, and kabob meat.  This cut can be butterflied if deboned and grilled or left whole for grilled lamb.

Breast: This tends to be a small cut that you can use bone-in or deboned.  If bone-in, treat like a rack of ribs and plan to slow cook.  The ideal is on the grill after marinating overnight.  A temperature of 225°F is recommended and again, using a two-zone cooking method will keep this moist if you include a water pan.  There are many recipes for stuffed lamb breast as well that a roasting method can be used.  Certainly, grilling two-zone method will make these moist, tender and flavorful.

Flavor Pairings

One characteristic of lamb is its ability to stand up to other strong flavors whether in spice or herb form.  Here are the top flavor pairings for lamb:

Almond: incorporate into a stuffing with rice

Anchovy: cuts slits into a leg or shoulder and insert drained anchovy into each cavity

Anise: a perfect addition to a casserole for infusion to the meat

Apricot: preferably used dry this is perfect with cinnamon, cumin, coriander

Cabbage: add potatoes and let it simmer with the meat

Cherry: adding onions, saffron, almonds, pomegranate, feta, mint, parsley, pistachio

Cumin: add chili and put on the grill

Eggplant: perfect if done kabob style over the hot coals

Goat Cheese: add spinach or kale and this is the perfect pairing for lamb burgers

Mint: likely the most well-known pairing which reduces the funkier undertones of the meat

Peas: add butter, onion, and tomato

Saffron: use this spice in rice to accompany the meat

With all these great flavor pairings, lamb should continue to grow in popularity and maybe will surpass one of our more common animal protein choices.

Do you have a favorite cut and preparation of grilled lamb?  Share your thoughts and photos.  Bringing innovation to wood-fired cooking with recipes, techniques and the science behind the fire, smoke, and flavor. That’s SmokinLicious®.

SmokinLicious® products used in this blog:

Wood Chunks- Double & Single Filet

More Related reading on other meats for the two-zone cooking method beyond grilled lamb, #lamb and other food items to prepare

More Related reading on other meats for the two-zone cooking method beyond grilled lamb, #lamb and other food items to prepare

Additional reading:

-WOOD FIRED LEG OF LAMB

-GIVE ME THAT BEEF BRISKET!

-SMOKED HAM ON THE GAS GRILL

-SMOKE A TURKEY- LEARN HOW

Dr. Smoke- Grilled Lamb can be served around the Holidays! Depending on the cut of meat you choose will raise the level of formality!

Dr. Smoke- Grilled Lamb can be served around the Holidays! Depending on the cut of meat you choose will raise the level of formality!

Our collage of cooking the leg of lamb, finished and cut leg of Lamb

Our Wood Fired Leg of Lamb

 

WOOD FIRED LEG OF LAMB

Summary:

Our wood fired leg of lamb, is charcoal grilled lamb over Charwood, which is directly fired lump charcoal or cooking wood chunks. Wood cooked Lamb using sugar maple hardwood has great flavor! Syrah wine, Garlic, Onion, mint leaves make up our fresh herb rub or grilled lamb marinade. Add this to your grilled lamb recipes

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Lamb is one of those proteins that tend to be associated with special holidays and occasions rather than as a common animal protein to introduce to the grill.  Let’s change that with this easy and highly flavorful way to add wood flavoring to cuts of lamb on the charcoal grill.  Know this technique can easily be done on the gas grill as well so simply pick your equipment and follow the suggested technique to bring abundant flavor and juiciness to your favorite cut of lamb.

I’ll be doing a leg of lamb and rib loins of lamb on a charcoal grill using charcoal and wood chunks to bring the great smoke flavor.

Grill Set Up

For the charcoal grill, I like to have a fine mesh screen in place over the charcoal area to utilize even the smallest ember for the heat and temperature control of cooking on the grill.  I get two chimney starters of charcoal (I’m using lump hardwood) ready. My grill will have three rib loins plus a leg of lamb on it.  I also get about four wood chunks – I’m using Single Filet sizing from SmokinLicious® in ash, sugar maple, and wild cherry – ready to go on top of the hot coals once poured into the charcoal area.Our red hot Charwood ready for cooking!

For a gas grill set up, pre-heat the grill to maintain a cooking temperature of 275°-300°F.  Use only the heat of the burners on one side of the grill, while the other side remains off. The lamb will be placed on the grill with the burners in the “off” position.  This is the indirect method of cooking and is an easy way to ensure that the lamb cooks without burning the skin and that you don’t have to babysit the grill!  Wood chunks would be placed either directly on the heat shields of the lit burners or in a smoker box or disposable pan set on the lit burners.

A Flavorful Drip Pan

Before the fire is started, I’ve prepared a drip pan containing Syrah wine, rough cut onion, garlic, and mint leaves to catch the renderings from the meat and prevent flare-ups on my direct method charcoal grill.  If using a gas grill, this pan would go under the grill grate where the meat is placed.   Another benefit to the drip pan is it adds flavor to the cooking environment producing an aromatic convection steam.   Since the leg of lamb is thickest, it will go on the grill about 45 minutes ahead of the loins. The leg must maintain a temperature of 275° to 300°F on the grill.  I insert a temperature probe in the thickest portion of the leg to ensure internal temperature.

Our drip pan with Syrah wine, onions, garlic and fresh mint

Flavorful, Easy Grilling

After 45 minutes of initial cooking to the leg of lamb only, it’s time to add the rib lions.  Since I have a total of three loins, it is a full grill.  The temperature probe will remain in the leg of lamb as this will determine when everything comes off the grill to rest.  It can be a challenge to add charcoal when the grill grate is full and your cooking on a kettle grill, but if you keep a helper nearby, and you have chimney starter ready with hot coal, this won’t be a huge issue.  Our lamb has been oiled and rubbed with fresh herbs, garlic, and seasoning.  Just a few hours of wood grilling to perfection in flavor.

The Finish

One of the tricks to grilling with wood on either a charcoal or gas grill is to have a plan on how to maintain the main protein while not depleting any of the moisture.  I love to use insulated blankets, the kind you purchase for a hot water tank.  They work perfectly at maintaining the meat’s temperature so you can be up to an hour away from serving.  I wrap the meat in foil and then in the insulated blanket.  Sometimes, I’ll use a cooler if I’ve run out of places to put foods for a big gathering.

The beautiful, flavorful skin on the lamb is a mahogany color providing just the right amount of bite to each piece, courtesy of cherry, maple and ash hardwoods.  We are serving our lamb with a Jasmine rice and wood-fired Brussels sprouts and carrot, along with a wood-fired Canadian salmon.  Remember, lamb doesn’t have to be reserved for the special occasion.  It’s readily available throughout the year and is a perfect protein to add to the grill.

The cut slice of our leg of lamb surrounded by our colorful wood fired finished product!

Tasting Notes:

To tone down the boldness of the smoke, always reach for hardwoods that are lighter in flavor tones.  These would include Alder, Ash, and Wild Cherry.

Cooking the lamb on a charcoal grill will impart stronger wood flavorings than a gas grill. Especially if you use a direct method of cooking (food is placed directly over the charcoal and wood).

Purchase products:

Wood Chunks- Single Filet

Additional reading:

-SMOKED HAM ON THE GAS GRILL

-DINING FOR SMILES EVENT PREPARATIONS

-Beer Can Chicken

-GIVE ME THAT BEEF BRISKET!

Dr Smoke

Dr. Smoke flavor- add this recipe to one of your holidays or a great summer event!